Covert action is much talked about and little understood. At its most basic level, covert action is a set of intelligence operations undertaken by a specific state’s intelligence agencies to advance its national interests. They are executed in a manner that limits the visibility of that state’s hand in whatever is done. Ideally, covert actions cannot be traced back to their sponsor. Most people take the term covert action to mean violent actions of one kind or another: kidnapping, assassination, support for insurgents, etc. While violence can certainly be part of a covert-action campaign, the more insidious — and often more effective — arm of covert action is called “political action,” whereby one state seeks to influence the public opinion of another by speaking through the mouths of that country’s citizens. And let me stress, there is nothing wrong or immoral about covert political action. America used political action worldwide in the Cold War; Britain used it in the United States to accelerate neutral America’s entry into both world wars; the Saudis pay untold amounts to retired senior U.S. officials to speak admiringly of the anti-American desert tyranny; and Israel uses it today against America to ensure unlimited and unquestioning U.S. support. It is a legitimate foreign affairs tool, and the leaders of any nation who choose not to engage in such activity are certifiably negligent fools.
While Terrorism Focus previously examined al-Qaeda’s strategic and tactical doctrine (February 28, March 14), this article looks at the type and purpose of the non-military training that is given to the individual al-Qaeda fighter or mujahid. Based on al-Qaeda sources (see notes for complete listing), this training appears to be common to both the organization’s insurgents and their special forces, and is intended to produce fighters who are pious, disciplined and unity-minded, fatalistic, and cognizant of the requirements and attitudes of those they are defending.
- Whose side is the U.S. on?
America’s Sunni Islamist opponents must be ever more strongly sensing that Allah truly is on their side. Currently, this perception is due not only to the recent victory of the Islamist party Hamas in Palestine’s parliamentary elections, but more especially because of the U.S. reaction to that success. That reaction probably has polished off any remaining belief in the Muslim world — assuming there was any — that the United States is sincere about building democracy in the Middle East. The reaction likewise has validated Osama bin Laden’s repeated warning that the hypocritical West supports democracy only if elections further its plans to dominate and secularize the Islamic world.
While our all-seeing neoconservatives, liberal internationalists, and realists argue about democratizing the Muslim world — their argument is not if we should, only how — the real authors of our Muslim-world disaster remain hidden. These wretches are America’s history teachers. They have failed so utterly that no leader in either party appears to understand U.S. history or the basically nontransferable nature of America’s experience. So ineffective have the teachers been that Americans — leaders and led — expect to replicate abroad the republic under which they live but about which they know almost nothing.
This month’s burial of 20 U.S. Marines from a single Ohio reserve battalion is the result of Marines doing what they have done for 200-plus years — fighting their country’s battles. Dignified as always, Marine officers and men handled the news of the deaths and subsequent dealings with the bereaved families with a sincere, dry-eyed compassion that sets them far apart — and far above — the cloying festivals of televised grief on which our society thrives. In war, peace, and mourning, Marines are the epitome of the now much-denigrated but still cardinal virtue which the 19th Century called manliness.
“An ELECTIVE DESPOTISM was not the government we fought for,” James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper 41. As America nears the 229th anniversary of its independence, it is well to recall Madison’s words and to remember what the Founders fought for is best described in Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, which remains the single most important statement on the nature of our republic. It is true that Christian scripture informed the work of Jefferson and the Founders, but the declaration and the constitution that followed it are the only scripture to which Americans must hew. God, after all, will work His own will, to His own satisfaction, in His own time.
The recent torrent of Internet and print media stories about the wounding and demise, and then the resurrection and return to battle, of al-Qaeda’s commander in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, kicked up a great deal of dust but little solid information. After the initial announcement of al-Zarqawi’s wounding was circulated on the Internet on May 24, 2005 (posted on www.alhesbah.org among other sites), little has been clear except that he was wounded “lightly,” is still fighting, and has reported to Osama bin Laden that all is well with him and the mujahideen in Iraq. What conclusions should be draw from this episode that — as reported in the Western media — reeks of melodrama?
Professor Robert Pape’s brilliant new book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism gives Americans an urgently needed basis for devising a strategy to defeat Osama bin Laden and other Islamist militants. In scholarly and low-key prose, Pape delivers the results of his own extensive research and that done by the University of Chicago’s Project on Suicide Terrorism. In so doing, Pape demolishes the relentlessly repeated assertion of the neoconservatives and Israeli politicians that Islamist suicide attacks against America and other counties are launched by undereducated, unemployed, alienated, apocalyptic fanatics who are eager to kill themselves because Americans vote, have civil liberties, and allow women to drive cars. This assertion always has been transparently false, and I have argued so in my own work on al-Qaeda. It has been, however, an assertion that is easy to protect because its authors simply dismiss their critics by calling them anti-Semites, thereby foreclosing debate. But Pape avoids contentious rhetoric and employs facts to kill the assertion, and he does so coolly and with the precision of a Marine sniper.
Winston Churchill once remarked that God protects drunks and the United States of America. Fortunately, the divine protection Churchill detected for the United States seems still in place — if we are wise enough to see and take advantage of it.